Black Honey Wings, Part XI (Meanwhile)

Day 17. 65 pages, 29,010 words.

“We’re getting a stand-down message from the Black Honey Wings,” Glorious Providence (Sarcasm) reported, her striped hands flashing over her console. “It has high-level clearance, diplomatic tags, the works. Apparently there are still delicate discussions taking place and both parties require us to hold position and make no overt moves in the interim to exacerbate matters. No command confirmation of that from our people, though,” she added, unnecessarily.

Naturally, W’Tan thought. She tapped on her console and double-checked that their exit sequence was approved and ready. She straightened again. One problem with the command console on this modular was that Skelliglyph absolutely refused to install Six Species compliant furniture – at least on his own stations. The seat and consoles were therefore annoyingly … stumpy.

“As I believe our Chief Tactical Officer would say, things have gone south,” she announced.

“What does that mean?” Providence asked.

“It is a phrase humans use when they’ve created an untenable communication environment,” Stana Pae Segunda replied from the far end of the comms console. “I’m not sure what it has to do with antiquated planetary cartography.”

“Mister Genevieve, take us out,” W’Tan said. “Mister Krader, exit sequence.”

This was a fancy way of saying that they were going to engage their subluminal drive, slice their way free of the main docking connector using a combination of maintenance cutters and exchange shear, disable the enemy’s mechanical and atmospheric infiltration at the other airlocks by use of catching arms and small weapons-fire, and then just fly off as recklessly as possible and do as much bodily harm to the already-damaged enemy starship as possible in the process.

W’Tan would have preferred to have Ghee at the helm, since he’d been the pilot for their initial launch from Pestoria Geo Chrys and had done the job magnificently, and they needed much the same sort of manoeuvre now. Still, Arlin San Genevieve was just as capable of wanton destruction through mishandling of an AstroCorps modular. He was a human, after all.

The floor shuddered, although that was probably less to do with collision or weapons than it was to do with the gravity exchange hiccoughing as they ground it up against the Black Honey Wings’s system. A moment later they were free, the hull of the misshapen starship turning slowly in their main viewscreens.

“Incoming,” Krader announced tensely.

The Black Honey Wings opened fire.

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Black Honey Wings, Part X (Meanwhile)

Day 16. 62 pages, 27,652 words.

W’Tan sat back in the Captain’s chair. Most of the other officers avoided sitting at the main command console when they were filling the role of Acting Captain. As if some vengeful God of Rank would smite them for daring to have ambitions above their station. It was pointless symbolism at best. At worst, it was defeating the design purpose of the bridge. They put that seat, those controls and overrides, in that location for a reason. Sitting somewhere else, at some auxiliary console, was functionally handicapping yourself.

Drago Barducci’s pulse whisper, in the absence of any real comms, was a perfect example. Of course the enemy ship had nullified their communications. Even if the crew of the A-Mod 400 had been stupid enough to attempt to communicate on common channels during an armed conflict, the enemy would want to prevent it. Preventing it was less problematic than tapping into it. But Barducci’s little tag was one of those things that could really only be efficiently used from main command.

“Is that all, Commander?” Glorious Providence (Sarcasm) asked from the comms station. Providence was a relatively competent Blaran of some neutral political creed or other, her entire body striped horizontally black and white. W’Tan knew it was her entire body, because Providence was in the habit of dancing naked at crew gatherings.

Apparently performing a carnal act with her had been dubbed ‘ticklin’ the ivories’ by some wit down in the maintenance pool. Probably that cretin Varies-Wildly-By-Day. He loved a good bit of rumour mongering, and the shipboard gossip was that Providence was not averse to a bit of fun with the weaker species. Nothing wrong with that, of course. You just had to be careful, with humans. They fell in love and died very easily.

Sometimes simultaneously.

“Yes,” W’Tan replied.

“Your orders?” Zoran Krader, Acting Chief Tactical Officer, asked crisply. Krader was human, probably put in his role by that reprobate Barducci … but he was passable at the job.

“Stand by,” W’Tan said.

“Commander-”

“It is ‘Acting Captain’ at this point,” W’Tan said. “And ‘stand by’ means you await orders. Unless you would rather go to the rec dome and run around pretending to be an aeroplane? It may be a better use of your time than standing here pretending to be Chief Tactical Officer.”

Krader subsided huffily. Another ten, then twenty seconds dragged by.

The ship was silent, no sign of trouble. No sign of attack, no evidence of the Black Honey Wings preparing her weapons to fire upon their modular.

But that message from Barducci…

“Check on the medical arc airlocks,” she said.

“The … copy that, Acting Captain,” Krader said, displaying the surprising ability to learn. He was passable. “Locking and decompression agents,” he confirmed after another ten-second pause, sounding disgruntled. “I should have expected that.”

“Yes,” W’Tan said, “but next time you will. Our goal at this point is to ensure you get that chance,” she keyed in a closed shipboard comm to select units. “Evidently, our hosts would like us to remain docked,” she said, “until such time as they can incorporate our ship into their own. While this will bring some greatly-needed symmetry to their vessel, this will not come as much consolation to us. Not only because we have our own mission to continue, but because in the event of a takeover the competent crewmembers will be coerced into indentured servitude and the incompetent ones will be executed. Therefore, to save the lives of almost everyone on board this ship, we will need to break dock immediately.”

“The Captain and his team are still in there,” Krader protested.

“Perhaps you missed the part where I said we were doing this to save your life,” W’Tan said.

“We can’t leave them in there,” Krader insisted.

“I know you didn’t miss the part where I am Acting Captain, Mister Krader,” W’Tan said, “because you just called me ‘Acting Captain’,” she sat back and tapped the control panel near her lower left arm. “We’re leaving. Now.”

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The Break: A Review

Edpool reviews The Break by Deb Fitzpatrick

(Day 15. Nothing more today.)

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Character study: Tippy Ghee (2)

Day 14. 60 pages, 26,464 words.

Tippy wasn’t a prodigy. He wasn’t naturally gifted in any of the subjects or activities normally associated with an up-and-comer in the field of starship piloting. He scraped through with passes, the occasional Exceeds Expectations to balance out the zeroes, and a lot of re-tests. And when he finally learned to fly, he wasn’t instantly and remarkably talented. He didn’t take to it with an unnatural proclivity, earning the respect, nay, borderline superstitious awe, of his trainers, mentors and Academy classmates.

He wasn’t a great pilot. He was passable, perhaps in the upper fortieth percentile … but that made him one of millions. There were lots of okay pilots out there.

Tippy wandered from job to job, vessel to vessel. There were lots of different types of ships in the galaxy, and Tippy flew them all with a blazing, inoffensive mediocrity. He banged a lot of them around. He crashed two. The official count was three but he was deemed to not have been responsible for the one where the synth took over and tore a wing off because the structural damage hadn’t registered on the log due to a faulty relay. But that wasn’t important. A lot of pilots crashed ships. Tippy did something none of them did, and nobody noticed him doing it.

Tippy flew his ships, mostly adequately, and he was happy the entire time.

He was good enough to fly. And that was good enough for him.

Tippy Ghee didn’t have any accolades to his name. No commendations, no medals of honour. He had performed some spectacular stunts in his time, and saved a lot of bacon. But what did it mean, to save bacon? Just flying from one place to another, and not stranding your entire crew ten thousand years from anywhere was saving their bacon.

He’d also accidentally rammed a Chrysanthemum, tried to land a modular, caused a Worldship to perform an emergency course-change to keep from hitting him the one time he flew a warship, and he’d taken more starships to relative speed while close enough to a planet to peel the drive toruses off like orange rinds than he or any bureaucracy in the Six Species could count. But above all else, he’d flown from point A to point B, acceptably well, and had then turned around and flown from point B to point A.

And he’d been happy. Every time.

Captain Çrom Skelliglyph had once said that the career of Tippy Ghee was like a stream medley by Lars Larouchel. You had to listen to the notes he wasn’t playing, as much as you listened to the ones he was. Only then did you realise that you were in the presence of a very special kind of genius. One you could ask to fly into Hell. You’d wind up with pieces of good intentions lodged in your airlocks and a very pissed-off Devil plastered across your primary bridge viewscreen, but Tippy Ghee would get you there with a smile.

It never ceased to amaze Skell just how few strings he’d needed to pull to get him.

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Character study: Tippy Ghee (1)

Day 13. 59 pages, 25,852 words. I wanted to make this a one-part character study, but got lost in the philosophising and then ran out of time.

Molren, and Molranoids in general, lived for about five thousand years. Their childhoods, as a result, were long and leisurely … and yet, thanks to enhanced information retrieval and inborn memory baselines and basic sensory cognition, your average ten-year-old Molran was about as smart and knowledgeable as your average human was ever going to get.

It didn’t mean their childhoods were shorter. On the contrary, they were much longer. A Molran, depending on the subspecies or culture in question, wasn’t really considered an adult until he or she was five or six hundred years old anyway. The ‘childhood’ of a typical Molran just wasn’t about learning to walk, run, talk, socialise, or acquire a minimum-level education. Those things were crammed into the first twenty or thirty years of a human‘s life because a human only got about two hundred before going and dropping dead. Condensing the basics made good logical sense.

A Molran childhood was a building-up of wisdom, a gathering of experiences, a period during which mistakes could be more readily tolerated. It was, largely, something the child decided was over[1]. It took as long as it took, and attempting to rush it defeated the purpose.

[1] It is interesting to note that in Xidh – the primary language of the Six Species – and a lot of Fleet dialects, the word blaran was synonymous with child or recalcitrant youth. Blonryn, widely agreed to be its ancient source word, literally meant Molran who does not consider itself adult / Molran who does not consider itself Molran. It was hotly debated as to whether some of the original Blaran offshoots from the Molran species were descended from Molran ‘Lost Boys’ who simply refused to acknowledge adulthood.

The upshot of this is, while Molranoid children didn’t receive a formal education because they didn’t need one, the majority of them did take part in human education programs just for the experience. Between the age of ten years and First Prime, which could happen anywhere from twenty to a hundred and fifty or so, many Molran youths sort-of attended something not entirely unlike school. Not so much to learn, as to experience the learning curve of humans – and to assist in teaching them.

Many adult humans found this grating, because humanity has a neutron-star chip on its shoulder about being inferior. And also, Molren were annoying.

There hadn’t been any Molren in Tippy’s home of Colan Gairy Hive on Bad Moon Three, a seething subterranean city-state also known as The Griddle. Oh, there had been a few Blaren who loitered around the school complex … but they’d been Qastrians, opposed to the idea of interference in human development. Their solution to most schoolyard conflicts had been to hand you a pair of rocks and smile encouragingly.

At Tippy’s school, when they did the old What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up thing, most of the kids had said I want to be a mine angel, because that was what the heroes of The Griddle did. They regulated and ran rescue operations in the vast warren of mines underneath Colan Gairy Hive.

The rest of the wishes were evenly divided between AstroCorps starship Captain and chocolate taster and, in one special case, no matter how many times they explained to Bori Buddington that this wasn’t the way it worked, aki’Drednanth.

Taskerion Typhenix Ghee, five years old and born with a flaw in his inner ear that was too intricate to fix surgically – a flaw which had essentially made his nickname better-known than his real name by about three weeks after he’d finally learned to walk – had always answered this question by pointing towards an imaginary horizon, elevating his hand to about thirty degrees, and saying there.

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Black Honey Wings, Part XVII

Day 12. 54 pages, 23,969 words.

It ended up taking him a couple of minutes, and even Barducci’s lung capacity wasn’t that great. He was forced to take a few shallow, retch-inducing breaths inside the clipper before rolling out of the hole the bounty hunters had cut in its belly. He had the main computer core, a sodden cylinder like a big uncooked sausage, stuffed into the back of his belt because he was damned if he was going to face any of his team – let alone his intrepid Captain – with it stuffed into the front. Not that the back was much better.

The good thing about Fergunak technology was that a lot of it had biological components, and biotech was easy to rip out. The unfortunate thing about it, aside from the fact that there was no inoffensive way to secure it about your person, was that it was squishy, and slimy, and it stank. On top of the physical unpleasantness, Fergunak often slipped lethal – and very hard to trace – security measures into their data, so it was a delicate process getting anything out of them. It would take some work to get information off the processing tube, especially since they didn’t have access to a synthetic intelligence, but it would still be easier than trying to pry out whatever information the Black Honey Wings computer had taken from the clipper.

Next step was getting back to his cosy little modular.

Nobody had come into the main hold while he was rooting around in the Fergie ship, even with the fight he’d taken part in just outside. The A-Mod 400 was clearly doing a decent job keeping them all distracted. The question was how he was going to get back on board before she did critical damage to whatever part of the Black Honey Wings he happened to be in. The main hold, with its big cargo airlock the only thing separating him from vacuum, was probably the worst of many bad alternatives. It wasn’t necessarily a critical weakness in the starship, so it wasn’t necessarily a priority, but it could be used as a fighter launch bay by the defenders, and it was a tempting spot for attackers to fire through and attempt to hit systems deeper inside the ship. So it was a strategically viable target.

The question he had to answer to his own satisfaction – very, very quickly – was whether his crew would have reunited with the A-Mod 400 yet, in which case they’d be considering extraction options for the information they’d come aboard to retrieve. The information, and the hapless Chief Tactical Officer who had the information stuffed in his belt. Or if W’Tan was still operating on her own over there, in which case she’d know he was headed to the main hold but not that he had achieved his goal and was looking for a way out. He could only transmit so much to the bridge with his little pulser, especially once the dogfight began in earnest. Protocol required that she conclude the conflict with the compromised yet superior enemy starship without undue consideration for single crewmembers in harm’s way. And Choya Alapitarius W’Tan would stick to protocol.

Molren, he thought with a wry grimace. I told Skell it was a stupid idea to put one in the command group.

Still, if he had to bet his life on one thing other than Molren being sticklers for procedure, he’d bet it on Çrom Skelliglyph making it out of the Nope, Leftovers and back onto the bridge of the A-Mod 400. But he couldn’t make the assumption that they would risk everything on a crash-dock for him, and he knew they’d know he wouldn’t.

Indeed, they’d trust him to do the only thing he could do in this situation. Which, much as he hated to admit it, was essentially what combat protocol suggested anyway, because the protocols were ultimately designed by a sane – albeit disturbingly aggressive – person. Primary goal achieved, he had to get into the Black Honey Wings’s systems and do what he could from within to help the A-Mod 400 to win her fight.

He jogged away towards the access doors, the Fergie processing tube flapping obscenely against his lower back.

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Black Honey Wings, Part XVI

Day 11. 52 pages, 23,147 words.

The ship, a battered gunmetal-grey tube like a huge torpedo, lay along one wall of the cargo hold. It was canted slightly onto its side with its underbelly unceremoniously cut open. Oddly apropos, considering that the vessel fit its pilot rather snugly with only minimal drive, weapons, comms and life-support machinery around the outside. It was a blunt-ended cylinder designed to contain the Fergunakil, take it from place to place as fast as possible, and keep it alive – a suit, really, more than a starship.

The clipper was an extension of a great fish, and it had been gutted and discarded like one.

Even though things were dry and relatively tidy, the fight between the clipper and the Black Honey Wings clearly having taken place sometime previously, the whole spacious main hold still stank of brine and the assortment of rotting matter that usually graced the interior of a Fergunakil clipper. The cybernetic implants and leads and interfaces that connected the shark to the vessel surrounding it had been ripped out in the course of the removal of the pilot, in many cases – Drago saw as he took a deep breath and ducked his head briefly into the burned opening – leaving clumps of soft grey meat around them. He withdrew, stood back, and breathed again.

“I love my job,” he muttered.

Captain Dool’s crew had clearly also removed a lot of the more valuable components from the clipper – just because you’d been sent on a bounty hunting mission, that was no reason to pass up an opportunity for a little side-profit – and left the whole thing more or less disassembled even though at a cursory examination the ship seemed to be in one piece. Aside from the big hole in the belly, at least. This was both good news and bad news.

Oh, Drago could have told them that attacking and scavenging a Fergie ship was a damn fool thing to do, and attempting to sell the parts on was even worse. Even if it was out in the middle of nowhere, alone, a Fergie would be part of a school. And even if the other members of that school didn’t actually like that lone Fergie very much, they would come for anyone who attacked it.

Fergunak held grudges. This was a well-known fact, yes … but the true, crazy extent of the fact was invariably something people failed to appreciate. If you were going to attack a Fergunakil ship, you were better off leaving it dead in space with as few identifying weapons-signatures as possible. Ideally, you’d blast it into its nasty component atoms and make yourself scarce.

But it wasn’t Drago’s job to tell these dillweeds that. Nak Dool should have had some more experienced space-dogs on his crew to educate him about this stuff, before he went toddling off to do the Halfmoon’s dirty work.

Anyway, the ship was stripped, and that was good and bad. It was bad because Barducci had been considering it as a last-ditch escape option if the fight got too hot on board the Black Honey Wings. It was good for much the same reason – piloting a Fergie ship was a revolting concept at best, and was way too dependent on hacking the cybernetic connections and mastering mechanical controls intended for use by the cartilaginous proto-hands of a fifty-foot shark. It was theoretically possible, but the best you could expect was a barely-controlled freefall until somebody could pick you up and pry you out of there. You wanted to be absolutely out of alternatives, anyway.

He took another deep breath, and went delving for the computer core.

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